We sat in The Sub-Pope’s Flock, in our usual corner, looking out the window at the Buttermarket Square as a few very determined tourists walked through the Cathedral gates, braving the snow and wind. Over the speakers mounted over the bar, an English folk band wrapped up a song about Plato or something and gave way to some new costumed freak named Lady Gaga. (Well, new to me. She’d apparently been making music for a few months. She looked like a Marvel villain on crack, and that was enough to make me ignore her.)
“You’re not going to start hanging out with them, are you?” asked The Traveler.
He sat across the table from me, wearing a red shirt with a black fist screened on and then some writing in Cyrillic. I assumed he’d picked this up from some market in the Eastern Bloc, but he wouldn’t say anything other than “I got it ridiculously cheap.” Come to think of it, The Traveler didn’t say anything about his trips over the break; he simply stated that where he went wasn’t that special, and what he did wasn’t that special, and any further discussion on the subject would simply be boring. I thought that whenever anyone said something like that, then it would be quite the opposite, but chose not to bring it up.
He was, I think, referring to the glut of undergrads with whom I acquainted myself by joining the cast of Fiddler on the Roof. I say “I think” because there was a good ten minutes of The Drunkard shouting that The Writer was a moron, and The Stalker making uncomfortable-sounding statements about everything going on. Throughout it all, The Student sent text messages on his phone to Rebecca. “What’s wrong with them?”
The Traveler shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, you know. Undergrads.”
I blinked. “I fail to see what the problem is. I mean, some of the chicks are pretty hot and, you know—”
The Drunkard burst into a gale of laughter. “Come on, man. Don’t bullshit us. You? You can’t talk to an attractive girl to save your life.”
“Guh!” shouted The Drunkard, his mouth agape. “Guh, guh!” He looked like a fish. I hoped that I didn’t look that bad.
“And,” said The Student, continuing to poke away at his phone, “let’s not forget the surely present gap in intellect.”
“What?” I said. “That’s insane.”
“Not really. Think about it: What was your favorite movie as a freshman?”
“Anchorman,” I said.
“Inglourious Basterds, but I don’t see what you’re talking about.”
“Note that you’ve progressed from a film based on the humor level of dick and fart jokes and have moved to a World War II-Western hybrid with intelligent nods to German cinema of the 1930s and ‘40s that holds its characters to no black-and-white moral standard, and, indeed, shows that ‘heroes’ are just as horrifying as ‘villains.’”
“I bet I can find some people in the cast who liked it.”
“Yes, I’m sure, but that intelligence is buried deep within a sea if inanity and asinine likes and dislikes.” The Student clicked a final button on his phone and put it gently in his pocket. He shrugged. “Good luck finding them.”
“That’s... really fucking cynical, man.”
He cocked an eyebrow and took a drink. “I don’t see how.”
“Indeed,” said The Writer, “it’s in the general hu—”
“Shut up, corduroy-wearer,” said The Drunkard.
“What’s wrong with corduroy?” asked The Student.
“Nothing when you wear it,” said The Drunkard. “You’re basically a prof. But when The Writer wears it...” he paused, took a drink from his whiskey, and leaned forward, “it looks like he’s being eaten by a bear; and the fictitious nature of that fantasy makes me yearn that it were true.”
There was a pause around the table. The Stalker stood and slow clapped for a moment. The bartender looked over at us with a scowl and turned up the TV in the corner, and turned down the music. Rugby raised in volume and calmed us down for a moment.
“So,” said The Traveler, drumming his fingers on the table for a moment. “The reason we’re here is I figured that it had been a while – too long of a while, if I may say so – since we’d broken for winter and gone our various ways—”
“Without bringing The Drunkard along,” sneered The Drunkard to The Student, “because The Drunkard would be too destructive.”
The Traveler cleared his throat, “—and I decided that the best way to break in the new term would be to reinstate our contest.”
A general murmur of agreement went around the table, save for The Drunkard, who’d stood up – well, more like staggered up – and gone to the bar to order another Jameson. If we were a hive mind – and sometimes, on the rare occasion when I saw two members of our group with the same facial expression, I believed there was a certain amount of credence to this idea – then the hive would have gone with the idea, even if one member had been temporarily blacked out, i.e. The Drunkard.
The Traveler grinned. “Great, now, the hard part is remembering who’d gone last...”
“Well,” I said, “The Writer came up with that awesome sci-fi story.”
The Writer sputtered. “Aw—awesome? That... that dreck, you call that awesome?” He grew wide-eyed. “I just used a vernacular term.” He pointed at me. “Do you see what you’ve made me do, you bastard?”
I grinned. “The game is mine. And yeah, I loved it.”
The Writer flung his hands in the air and sputtered some more, gesturing between me and The Traveler; eventually he gave up and shook his head, took a drink from his ale.
“Kay,” said The Traveler.
“And The Drunkard had finished up his story about Lloyd,” I said.
“Cloyd,” said The Drunkard, returning to the table. “The kid’s name was Cloyd. Wonder what he’s up to. Probably dead on the side of Second Avenue.”
“Jesus,” I said.
“What?” asked The Drunkard.
“I’ll go,” said The Student.
“Is it your turn?” asked The Traveler.
“Does it matter?” The Student responded.
“Good point, the rest of us said.”